Foodborne illnesses dominated the headlines this year.
A nationwide outbreak of E. coli infections brought the spinach industry to its knees. More than 200 people were sickened, and three died as a result of the outbreak linked to spinach grown in California's Salinas Valley. The Food and Drug Administration advised consumers not to eat fresh spinach, and that effectively shut down the industry. Retailers pulled spinach from their shelves while restaurants removed spinach dishes from their menus. Even after the government gave the leafy green the all-clear, retailers were leery about bringing spinach back. As the year came to a close, the industry was talking about the need for new standards, maybe even new regulations to make fresh produce safer.
Late in the year, another outbreak of food poisoning put E. coli back in the headlines. Linked to the Taco Bell restaurant chain, the outbreak prompted the company to close restaurants, switch produce suppliers and launch a media campaign to convince consumers its food is safe. Federal investigators were still trying to figure out which food caused scores of people to fall ill.
In other countries, consumers lost their appetite for poultry after avian influenza cropped up. The decline in demand hurt the bottom line for American chicken processors, and brought down prices.
Foreign markets opened their doors to American beef but consumer acceptance was mixed, and complying with the beef trade agreements proved to be a challenge for American companies.
Retailers added so-called humane foods in dairy and meat departments, and egg producers defended their production methods in response to the growing interest in cage-free eggs.